Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Alright, folks. It's that time of the year again. Do your civic duty and vote for your favorite blog over at The Art of Ed. Hopefully mine is one of them. I'm in the elementary category. There are a lot of wonderful blogs listed. It's always a time of the year when I find new blogs that I haven't ever seen before. Good luck to all of the finalists!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Creativity Time

I'm slowly changing the way I teach. Aren't we all? Through blogs, PD (I mean PD that I seek out. Not that soul-deadening garbage we all sit through at school.), and speaking with colleagues, I try to keep up to date and make changes in my teaching that reflect what I feel is best for my students. 

This year I decided to have more fun. I already mentioned that I have more free choice options this year for students who finish early. (Blocks, Legos, pattern makers, connectagons, etc.) I'm also trying to use more fun half day or one day mini projects. Last week I did a Lego building challenge that was awesome. This week I had one rotation to fill for 2nd grade before a student teacher started with them. I introduced the Movie Mash-Up drawing prompt. Hilarity ensued. 
Fashionable Toilet - The Teen Years. Two thumbs way up!
Basically, there are three columns on a handout. Kids pick one part from each column in order to create a movie name. They then have about 30 minutes to illustrate a poster for that movie. The movie titles can be pretty wacky and that's half the fun. It really gets kids thinking about how to best represent the title. 
That baby is so loud in outer space. I'd see that movie just to find out how. 
I'm working to do more things like this. I have a lot more ideas and plenty of school year to go. Is anyone else doing something similar? Share! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Guest Post - Margaret Orr: Animator

It is my delight to introduce a guest writer for my blog today. I was recently contacted by Margaret Orr, an animator and filmmaker from Bloomington, Indiana whose short films have been featured in film festivals around the world. 

Margaret is working to raise funds in order to work with early primary grade students in Chicago Public Schools on a very innovative animation project. As you find out by reading below, Margaret has a passion for animation and truly wishes that all age levels get to experience the magic of creating their own animation project. Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

And now, the words of animator Margaret Orr:

Film and animation are art forms that are difficult to bring into a classroom. Animation, in particular, requires a level of patience that young children simply have not yet developed. As a result, young children are rarely exposed to this art form, and often miss out on its lessons.

I am not a teacher. I’m an animator and filmmaker. I first taught animation to students when working at summer camps as a college student. In my experience, once students reach about the age of 10, they really appreciate and are sufficiently motivated by animation. They're willing to sit down and draw for hours, sometimes making several hundred individual drawings to tell their stories. But younger students, especially those aged 6-8, tend to get extremely excited about the idea of making a movie, but don't have the patience to express themselves one frame at a time.

An answer to this problem comes from the history of animation, and is the inspiration for a project I am working on called Scribble. Long before Disney, back when film was brand new, innovative artists realized that they could scratch into the emulsion of film stock to draw pictures on film. We’re doing something a little different, but the principle is the same. By drawing onto “clear leader film” (which is a fancy way of saying clear plastic film) the students can create movement quickly in an accessible way. The students can use a wide variety of techniques to animate, depending on their interest levels, patience, and skill. For instance, they can use the film like a canvas and draw across it without concern for where each individual frame is, resulting in an abstract and disjointed animation. Or they can pay closer attention to where the frames are and actually create movement from frame to frame. They can use a wide variety of materials to create the film, including sharpie markers, paint, stamps, allowing for a wide variety of aesthetics and creative choices.
So what do you need to make something similar happen in your own classroom? There’s an unlimited number of ways to go about this. For Scribble, we’re using 35 mm clear leader film, chosen because it’s thicker than 16 mm, and thus a little easier for first-graders to use. But if you’re working with older children 16 mm film will work just as well and has the added benefit of being less expensive. Set up is fairly easy. We tape brown paper on the tables, use masking tape to tape the leader film onto the paper, and mark the paper with each frame interval (for 35 mm film there is one frame for every four sprocket holes). The students draw on the film with sharpie markers. I use a film-to-digital converter to digitize the artwork and edit it into a film, but you could also purchase a projector and screen the film directly.

Out students will have the opportunity to work with professional artists to create a film that will play at film festivals. We’re working with an incredibly talented composer, Aaron Marshall, to create music for the film. I have created four films over the last four years, all of which have played at international film festivals, so I have extensive experience with the festival circuit. We want the kids to be able to see their work on a big screen, with a packed audience to applaud when their names roll across the screen at the end. This project is as much about inspiring the next generation of filmmakers as it is about creating a film.
Examples of film created in the style described in the paragraph above. Very cool!

If you would like to support the project we’re currently raising funds for Scribble on Kickstarter. We’ll be using funds raised to purchase materials (film, markers, a film-to-digital converter, etc.), pay for the time of our composer, and for entry into film festivals once the film is completed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

3rd Grade Charley Harper Inspired Cardinals

Stop! Harper time! 

Wow. That was super lame. It did make me chuckle, though. It's also true. Right before winter break is when I typically have my 3rd graders study the work of Charley Harper. The outcome is a lesson that forces students to think and create art in a new way. It also looks pretty wintery and makes for a great display.

This lesson is all about Charley Harper, an artist who lived in Ohio the majority of his life. If you're familiar with his work, you know that he uses flat, graphic shapes to create mainly images of wildlife. As my school is in Ohio, I have students all make cardinals. I don't like limiting a project that much, but it works out in this case for a couple of reasons. First, there are limitless ways to create a cardinal out of flat, graphic shapes. No two students create identical cardinals. It also gives me the opportunity to display quite a few reference pictures, so students can get a really good grasp on what they are creating. 

I have students start with about 30 minutes of small sketches. I usually have students draw quite a bit before they begin a final project and it results in more thoughtful work. Students then select their favorite sketch and use construction paper to recreate it. They then create a background. More choice is included in making the background. I demonstrate how to make trees (using a dry brush technique), how to make snowflakes (using white paint and the handle of a brush), snow drifts, berries, and bird footprints. Students chose to use any or all of those ideas to make their own background. As has been the case before, the results of this lesson are super successful. 

Download the lesson plan for this project here!